Are You A List-Maker Or A Spontaneous Traveler?
My friend is looking at me, radiating excitement. “We are going to spend three WEEKS on the road! I hardly know where to begin packing!!”
This will be her first-ever road trip in her life. She will be traveling by camper van with her new beau and his two dogs to tour the West Coast. The questions spill out: where to go, what to see, what to expect, what to pack, and enough what-if scenarios to fill a bathtub. She is practically vibrating with a mixture of thrill and terror of her first road adventure.
She looks at me with wide eyes. “I know it is still a few months off, but I am already trying to make a list of what to pack. But he plans to just grab some clothes and go!”
And here lies the delicate balance between being prepared for an adventure, and being spontaneously go-with-the-flow. Whether you are a list-keeper or a by-the-seat-of-your-pants free spirit traveler seems to depend partly on your personality and preference, but also based on what kind of trip you might be planning, and how often you travel. For the purpose of curiosity, I conducted an informal poll on whether fellow RVers were “list keepers” or “pack-n-go” travelers.
Based on this not-at-all scientific query, results indicate a fairly even split. It also seems that the more “practiced” travelers (full-time or frequent weekenders) drift toward the “pack-n-go” system, BUT also have incorporated established routines as a habit to make sure they are indeed travel-ready and safe. Those who don’t travel frequently, or are branching out into uncharted waters (ie taking a first cross-country trip) tend to lean toward list-making.
Personally, I lean toward the list side. OK, to be honest, I might actually define the list side. I actually have an entire BOOK of LISTS. And it is the third volume of Book of Lists that I keep…. I see the Book as my travel brain—it keeps all of the thoughts that rattle around in my brain before, during, and after our travels in one place so that the next trip goes a little smoother.
I have packing lists, repair lists, lists of veterinarians, lists with maps of routes through congested cities, list of tools we need to bring, lists of people’s contact information we meet along the way, lists of books we want to listen to while driving, you get the picture here… Each trip builds on the previous travel experiences, and the Book serves as a convenient way to keep track of the successes and challenges.
There is no right or wrong way to plan for your RV adventure. No matter how you prepare to get out there, the bottom line is that you actually get out there!
To continue my non-scientific research, I would love to hear how you go about getting ready for your travels. Do you list, or do you just go?
Hook up – head out.
I am a planner. I have to have lists to make sure we don’t forget important items
I like to know where we are staying each night so we don’t end up with no
place to stay when tired from driving. And if you don’t know what you want to stop
and see how do you know where to go each day.
We tried to wing it on one trip but it just did not work for us.
Sharon, you can usually spend the night in a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or a Bass Pro Shop/Cabellas parking lot. We do the first night of every trip since we leave in the evening when my boyfriend gets home from work. We usually do it again on the way home since I don’t book a lot of places for traveling back home. When we get tired I just check for the nearest of the 3 with my cell phone. I like Walmart because most are open all night. There is also dispersed camping and national forests and BLM land and all that is free. For one night we don’t mind not having the amenities because all we want is to sleep and to get back on the road as early as possible. Just check the internet anywhere you are.
Don’t forget “Rest Areas” I never get reservations and often sleep a few hours in a rest area when traveling more than one day driving.
Ed g says
I’ve been using NoteMaster on my iPhone for years to keep my lists.
Recently I switched my list to the ‘Apple Numbers’ app, a great spreadsheet.
I have two checkboxes for each line item, one to say I need this item, the second to say it is now in the RV and ready to go.
I can categorize and color code and even sort my items if necessary. Also it is easy to highlight (bold/large) categories and zoom in/out when I forget my reading glasses.
My choice would be get up and go see where we end up at the end of the day, but these days parks are always full so we make lists and plan. My phone is my list after list after list.
Boy Scout motto “Always be prepared!” This does not mean to do it on the fly… I plan ahead and have learned to enjoy the crazy things that happen that one cannot plan for! Example… Alien abduction, Elvis sightings, you get the idea….
We usually have 2 types of get-a-way plans. We are full time RVers also. So to brake it down, our first type of get-a-way is hook up our home and go, no real list needed and very little planning. This one is pretty much all routine, put a way and secure everything, fill the truck with gas and get service completed call ahead for reservations somewhere in the 300 to 500 mile range. Stay for as long as we like or as long as the park permits and do it all over agian. Our other get-a-way is short trips in our SUV, ( overnight to a couple weeks). We have a very short check list. Change of under clothes per day and pants /shorts for for every few days, bathrooms kit ( toothbrush, toothpaste, …..) depending on how adventurous we will be maybe an ice cooler and our pre packed adventure kit – reciever mounted aluminum tool box.( containing; propane bottles, stove, lanterns, fishing gear, old school percolator coffee pot with coffee grounds, 10 gls water, 5 gls gas, a few tools (axe, shovel, hammer, madox), and a few other things. We always have the following things in our truck and SUV so we never think of packing or forgetting them; first aid kit, (to include sun screen, burn cream, ace bandages and a few things like Bayer aspirin and medical gloves) light blanket, sleeping bag (twin with removable sheets), jackets, spare fluids for vehicles, phone chargers, garmin, wratchet straps, and a few other things. THIS PRETTY MUCH COVERS IT. Always be sure your bank knows that you are on the move just in case they block your account for suspicious charges until you call. ( happened to us once, NOT FUN) safe travels.
We are not full timers but are the pack and go types. We’ve been rv`ing in the same trailer for 20 years so the pack has become second nature. When we first started rv`ing we did make lists and plans but quickly found that we couldn’t make the plan work as planned. It became much more fun when we knew we had packed for most foreseeable emergencies and just went with the flow of what the trip threw at us.
Colin Abbott says
My wife and I rarely book camp sites, and never book a route, we pull out of the driveway and have no idea where or when we are going or when we will get there, so much more fun, and pulling off the road by the latest 3 pm we have never been turned away.
We have been RVing for 3 years now. I am retired and my boyfriend has 2 more working years to go but he gets lots of vacation time so we go on 10 to 12 trips a year. Basically my list is one thing. Do your research and packing will fall right in place. Since most trips are during high volume tourist weeks I usually have campgrounds booked well in advance. Lots of National Parks and State parks are often are full the weeks we travel. I do my research on the areas we are going to so I know the best times of year to go and I check what the average weather conditions will be so I know what type of clothing to pack. Often areas we go to are hot during the day and get very cold at night.
Since we have started RVing I keep a Word Document called Travel List of Places to Visit on my laptop desktop. As I find places from magazines like Trailer Life, RV Life and National Park lists I download the most beautiful picture of the area or Park and copy and paste it to my list with the name and location. Then I research and add all the great things in the area that we definitely would want to see and do type it in under the picture for future reference.
In January we decide what area of the country we want to go to and what time of year we want to go there. For spring and fall trips I usually check when spring and fall school breaks are so we don’t go to Florida or the Texas Gulf when schools are out in that area or the mountains in the Fall. We just don’t love the extra traffic or to be overrun with too many kids in the campgrounds.
After time of year is set I decide how many days the trip will need to be counting off my boyfriends work holidays, vacation days, personal days & weekends so I know how far we can travel and still have time to really enjoy each trip. Next I research and book the campgrounds we want to stay at for each trip. Usually National Parks and State Parks and other Federal Campgrounds.
We usually have a 3 ½ week trip each year that we go on. As soon as I get my boyfriends work holiday and vacation days for each year I number the days on a sheet of paper 1 to whatever for all the days. Then reserve the days we need for the longest trip first. Then the # of days for the other trips we want to do that year.
One very important thing I research is how far the nearest large food store is to the campground we are going to. Sometimes it is really far like 100 miles so I know how much food, wine and beer to stock until we are back in civilization again. We certainly don’t want to run out of any of those.
That is about the extent of my planning except for the long trip.
For the 3 ½ week trip I usually make an itinerary to include the campground we will be staying at and the things we really want to see at each location along the way. This is mainly so I don’t get confused. I keep the reservations printed out for each campground in order with any additional info I need for them and put them in the van. Like phone numbers to call to get the gate code when we are going to arrive late so they do not give our site away.
One of the reasons I do the itinerary is because my son, living in Idaho Falls, likes to drive or fly to where we will be and join us for a week. He can then decide what he wants to see the most. One year he met us in Colorado Springs to go to The Great Sand Dunes National Park, then on to Durango for 2 days to ride the Durango Silverton Railroad & then onto Mesa Verde National Park for a few days before he had to head home. We had another week to get back to our home in Georgia. We don’t book campgrounds for the trip home since July 4th week is over by then.
This summer he flew into Logan Airport in Boston, rented a car and met us at my sisters house in Massachusetts so we could do a day trip to Vermont then travel together to Maine to Acadia National Park . He had never been to any of those states so it was really nice for him.
All the research ahead of time really helps because we know the distances between places and some stuff like the Durango Silverton Railroad full day trip up the mountain I would never have known about to even stop there. I was also able to make a train reservation for the 3 of us a month ahead of time so we knew we’d have a seat on the train as long as we got there.
Of course there are unforeseen problems like when our diesel van broke down before we got to Durango and got towed by Good Sam Roadside Assistance to get fixed so we just rented a huge U-Haul truck to pull the trailer to Durango and park it and we had our son’s car following us so we had transportation and just had to go back to get the van when it was fixed. We try not to let things like this slow us down. We just think of all options and pick the best one to get us there.
Our trailer stays packed most of the time with everything we need and tools are always in the van so small things in the trailer or van can get fixed right away. Before the trip we pack our clothes and already know what we need to bring from my research. We start the refrigerator the night before and I pack the groceries we have at home then make a Walmart stop or Grocery store for the rest.
One thing I now check and add to my research is altitude because I need Oxygen to walk or sleep and I didn’t bring enough on the train and I ran into some trouble on top. Since then I have found even people not on oxygen have a lot of trouble breathing in Colorado anyway because of the altitude and it gets worse the longer they stay. After the train I needed it just to sit doing nothing at all. I now add altitude on my List of Travel Places to visit. We will still travel to Colorado but won’t stay as long each time.
When my boyfriend retires in two years we are moving to the Ozarks in Arkansas. It is middle of the country and we can go any direction to see everything on our Travel List. We are getting set up to be able to boondock and will most likely only make reservations on Holiday weeks and maybe some National Parks and State Parks that we really want to actually stay in.
Happy Trails to all. Hope this helps some of you.
We rarely make reservations ahead except over holiday weekends. We have one basic packing list- very brief.
If we are campground hosts and 150 miles round trip for groceries I use our excel spreadsheet food list ( we can go 8-10 weeks) with this list.
Yikes! I’m a “plan in advance, make lists” kind of person, my husband is a “lets just drive and see what happens” person. We have been retired and traveling for a while, and it takes a lot of flexibility on both our parts to make the other comfortable. I have to be willing to not plan too far ahead, but I have to know where I’m sleeping tonight with reservations. I also have to be willing to cut our visit short by a night or two if he decides he is ready to go. He understands my need a plan at least for tonight. Actually, that became easier for him after we got ended up without a place to stay a couple of times. Great times!
Carson Axtell says
After doing a lot of backpacking and motorcycle/truck camping in my past, I’m a pack ‘n go style of traveler. The basic equipment is all pretty much the same and only needs to be adapted to my carrying capacity and the season and expected weather conditions. My planning consisted of deciding which direction to head in and for how long, and I’d usually have in my head a list of sights along the way which I may or may not take the time to see. Fortunately, most of my roadtrips were done back in the pre-internet days of the 80s and 90s when national parks were not nearly so crowded and I could get a campsite in the afternoon without making reservations; nowadays, I’d opt for boondocking and daytrips through any national parks I want to see. I’ve done a few trips with others according to a schedule and it just wasn’t very satisfying to me. I liked browsing through my guidebooks in the evening in my tent by candlelight to decide where I’d go the following day, and even then I’d leave open the possibility of changing my plans during the ride depending on what choices presented themselves as I traveled down the road. The freedom of the open road means just that to me: No hard schedule and the freedom to change my mind at any time…
Rick Heumann says
I am forcefully spontaneous because I usually forget my list.
Janice M says
It depends on the trip. Long road trips definitely a list…..learned that on my first long road trip……stopping to pick items up…ugh….would rather be relaxing & enjoying the scenery.
Walmart definitely great in a pinch for the night. And they always get my business! Managers couldn’t be any nicer when you ask if you can sleep in your trailer on the lot.
Enjoy the adventures! What a beautiful country we have to enjoy.
Kathy Endicott says
Love, love, love all the examples of lists given here. Is there any chance that you could publish the list that you have? It would definitely help us “list wannabes,” and I would be very grateful.
I have a list I have developed over the years with every thing I might need. It is in an
EXCEL worksheet and every time we get ready to go I create a new column with the trip date and go down through the list and mark what we need to take for that trip with a Y in the column, then I sort and print and check off as I load it in the trailer. This year I have divided up the list by person. so that everyone has their own list. As I try new recipes I add all the ingredients to the list. This also helps me with my grocery list. As my son has grown and taken up new interest I have added what he needs like his fishing pole, tackle box, net and waders.
I am a compulsive list maker, with packing lists saved in a word document tailored to suit each adventure. Additionally, I’ve kept lists over the years to remind me of things I wish to do: A Bucket List, complete with checked-off items, and my Gypsy List. It is organized by state, contains notes about family and friends to visit, and lists any places to see, campgrounds, parks, architecture and restaurants to check out, rare birds and animals, etc. Every time I read an RV article, blog, see a video or tv show, or even hear about a restaurant with a unique menu-item or theme, I’ll add that info under the corresponding state.
Now that I’m a full-time RV’er, my packing lists are irrelevant, as I travel and live with everything I need for any adventure. I spend my time checking things off my prized Bucket and Gypsy Lists, trying new activities or enjoying the old stand-by’s, dining, visiting friends and family, and making new friends along the way. I’m having the time of my life!
I think the best list are of those things we wish we had taken. And then,periodically make a list of things we never use and get them out of the RV. We have a tendency to carry too much food in the refrigerator. We need to carry less and stock up only if we know we are going to be someplace for a while.
Have been RVing for 45 years in everything from pushers to B’s, now in a C, we have never booked ahead in all that time. We have never been boondockers either, in the past if you tried to stop early in the day it was never a problem getting into a campground. In the future I think that is not going to be the case. It will take the fun of spontaneity out of travel! If you plan everything can go wrong, our way it’s just life as it comes and you deal with it!